All about Learning Technology Standards

This text is from an article by Wayne Hodgins with Marcia Conner published first in LiNE Zine’s Fall 2000 issue. The article’s title is aptly, “Everything you ever wanted to know about learning standards but were afraid to ask.” Reprinted here with permission. Go to the original article

History shows that revolutionary changes do not take off without widespread adoption of common standards. For electricity, this was the standardization of voltage and plugs; for railroads, the standard gauge of the tracks; and for the Internet, the common standards of TCP/IP, HTTP, and HTML. Common standards for metadata, learning objects, and learning architecture are mandatory for similar success of the knowledge economy. Fortunately, the work to create such standards for learning objects and related standards has been going on around the world for the past few years. This includes the creation of accredited standards from the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC) for Learning Object Metadata, Computer Managed Instruction, Course Sequencing, Learner Profiles and much more.

As we experience a boom in online education, learning technology standards are critical to our industry’s success because they will help us answer the following questions:

How will we mix and match content from multiple sources?
How do we develop interchangeable content that can be reused, assembled, and disassembled quickly and easily?
How do we ensure that we are not trapped by a vendor’s proprietary learning technology?
How do we ensure that our learning technology investments are wise and risk adverse?
A simple example of valuable standards that I came to appreciate in life, and my children still enjoy, comes in the LEGO(tm) product-line. All LEGO blocks adhere to one absolute standard for pin size. Every LEGO piece, no matter what shape, color, size, age, or purpose can always be snapped together with any others piece because of their uniformly shaped pins. This allows children of all ages to create, deconstruct, and reconstruct LEGO structures easily and into most any form they can imagine.

If we map this to the world of learning content, we start to see the opportunities that would result if we were able to have the same standards and capabilities to reuse and assemble or disassemble content drawn from any source at any time.

Whether it is the creation of content libraries, or learning management systems, accredited standards will reduce the risk of making large investments in learning technologies because systems will be able to work together like never before. Accredited standards assure that the investment in time and intellectual capital can move from one system to the next. When companies find their content trapped inside a proprietary format (such as a registration system, a courseware design, or a course sequencing model), the story is the same in each case. It is virtually impossible to reuse, transfer, or have interoperability between these proprietary models. This won’t change until we build systems on an open accredited standard.

Who is Building These Standards?
IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC) P1484
Most groups around the world, doing work in creating specifications for any of the areas related to learning, use IEEE LTSC P1484. These groups cover far-reaching topics including learning object metadata, student profiles, course sequencing, computer managed instruction, competency definitions, localization, and content packaging . Over many years, in its role as one of the world’s accredited standards bodies, the IEEE LTSC has created critical open and accredited standards using a very robust consensus-based model. The IEEE LTSC has also recently initiated the move of this work to the full International Standards Organization (ISO) standards by establishing ISO Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC1) Sub Committee 36 (SC36) on Learning Technology.

Over 20 different working groups are each creating a separate but related standard within IEEE LTSC. Full information on each of these can be obtained at the IEEE LTSC website. The IEEE process is open to all who wish to participate and can be accessed through email discussion lists that exist for each standards working group or though attendance at any of the meetings held three to four times per year at different locations worldwide. Full details of meeting location, agenda, and lodging, are available on the web site, as are prior meetings minutes and current working documents for each standards working group.

Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative
Shareable Courseware Object Reference Model (SCORM): The work done by the US Federal Government ADL initiative and their recently released Shareable Courseware Object Reference Model (SCORM) provides one of the best and most recent examples of the application and integration of these learning standards. These guidelines provide a foundation for how the Department of Defense will use learning technologies to build, and operate in, the learning environment of the future. The US military (be it Navy, Air Force, Army, or Marines) can all use, exchange, manage, track, and reuse all of their learning content and data no matter its source or application. Moreover, the Federal Government can choose multiple vendors, if they comply with the IEEE LTSC standards and the SCORM specifications, for various projects and know that all of the products and services will interoperate.

IMS (Instructional Management System) Global Learning Consortium
The IMS Global Learning Consortium, headquartered in Burlington Massachusetts, is developing and promoting open specifications for facilitating online distributed learning activities such as locating and using educational content, tracking learner progress, reporting learner performance, and exchanging student records between administrative systems. IMS has two key goals:

1. Defining the technical standards for interoperability of applications and services in distributed learning.

2. Supporting the incorporation of IMS specifications into products and services worldwide. IMS promotes widespread adoption of specifications that will allow distributed learning environments and content from multiple authors to work together.

IMS is a global consortium with members from educational, commercial, and government organizations. Funding comes from membership fees, with organizations choosing to join as either Investment or Developers Network members. The IMS specification documents are available online.

AICC: The Aviation Industry CBT (Computer-Based Training) Committee
The Aviation Industry CBT Committee (AICC) is an international association of technology-based training professionals. The AICC develops guidelines for the aviation industry in the development, delivery, and evaluation of CBT and related training technologies. The objectives of the AICC are to:

Assist airplane operators in development of guidelines that promote the economic and effective implementation of computer-based training (CBT).
Develop guidelines to enable interoperability.
Provide an open forum for the discussion of CBT and other training technologies.
Although AICC primarily attends to the aviation industry, over 12 years focus on the specifications required to meet this industry’s needs has led to a very well developed specifications for learning and particularly for computer managed instruction. As a result, a wide range of learning consortiums and accredited standards groups are in the process of adopting and adapting the AICC guidelines to their own industries.

The AICC wants the aviation training community to get the best possible value for its technology-based training dollar. The only way this is possible is to promote interoperability standards that software vendors can use across multiple industries. With such standards, a vendor can sell their products to a broader market for a lower unit cost. If you are concerned about reuse and interoperability of online learning, the AICC is a good group to participate in or follow. The AICC also actively coordinates its efforts with broader learning technology standards organizations like IEEE LTSC, ADL, and IMS (see AICC related activities).

PROMETEUS: PROmoting Multimedia Access to Education and Training in EUropean Society
Another example of applying and integrating the IEEE LTSC and learning standards comes out of the European PROMETEUS projects. Looking to apply not only the IEEE LTSC standards, the various Special Interest Groups (SIGs) of PROMETEUS work to integrate these into Europe context and cultures.

Telematics, knowledge content, and multimedia-based tools are widely considered central ingredients for evolving new ways to provide learning and training. These factors are at the core of European Union research programs and are being addressed by a number of EU projects for research, technological development, and demonstration (RTD).

With a clear underlying ideal to promote access to knowledge, education and training for all European citizens–regardless of their age, work situation, geographical location or social status–PROMETEUS has brought together hundreds of public and private sector organizations. PROMETEUS, as a permanently open forum, will seek to build, express, and voice consensus views on relevant issues that may be presented for its consideration. In particular, the following issues will be addressed:

optimal strategies for multicultural, multilingual learning solutions,
new instructional and training approaches and new learning environments,
affordable solutions and platforms based on open standards and best practices,
publicly accessible and interoperable knowledge repositories.
PROMETEUS’s consensus building actions will seek to bridge the gap between research and actual use of learning technologies, content, and services. By founding MoU (Multimedia Access to Education and Training in Europe) PROMETEUS will provide guidelines, best practice handbooks, and recommendations that will be submitted, as necessary, to Education and Training Authorities and to EU and International Standards Bodies. Also, expect close cooperation with the newly formed Learning Technologies Standards Workshop of the Information Society Standardization System of the European Committee for Standardization (CEN/ISSS).

The Dublin Core: Metadata for Electronic Resources
The Dublin Core is a metadata element set intended to facilitate discovery of electronic resources. Originally conceived for author-generated description of Web resources, it has attracted the attention of formal resource description communities such as museums, libraries, government agencies, and commercial organizations so they, too, can find the electronic resources they need.

Dublin Core is building of an interdisciplinary, international consensus around a core element set. This progress represents the emergent wisdom and collective experience of many stakeholders in the resource description arena. An open mailing list supports ongoing work. The characteristics of the Dublin Core that distinguish it from previous electronic resources descriptors are:

Simplicity: A wide group can use the Dublin Core: non-catalogers as well as resource description specialists. Most of the elements have commonly understood semantics that are no more complex to understand than a library catalog card.

Semantic Interoperability: The Dublin Core promotes a commonly understood set of descriptors that increases the possibility of finding what you are looking for across disciplines.

International Consensus: The Dublin Core benefits from active participation and promotion in over 20 countries in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia.

Extensibility: The Dublin Core provides an economical alternative to more elaborate description models (such as the full MARC cataloging of the library world). It is also flexible and extensible enough to encode structures and elaborate semantics usually only found in richer description standards.

Metadata Modularity on the Web: The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has begun implementing an architecture for metadata on the Web. The Dublin Core’s Resource Description Framework (RDF) is designed to support the different metadata needs of vendors and information providers. Representatives of the Dublin Core are actively involved in developing this architecture.

Where are we now?
The standards are coming and many are almost complete. Those participating in the email groups and meetings feel the progress and see the opportunities. However, many more people are not sure what to do with these standards and these new technologies because they haven’t been following the progress. That’s an understandable excuse for now, but won’t work much longer. If you do not begin thinking and planning now, you will be unprepared when these new tools arrive. Prepare yourself strategically as these exciting new opportunities turn into business reality and success.

How can I take action?
1. Check out the IEEE Learning Technology Standards Committee (LTSC) web site at for the most up-to-date documents and notes on the accredited standards. For those just getting started or for those looking at specific new LTSC standards groups, I recommend that you:

Go to the main page and go to the specific IEEE LTSC standard of interest. For example see P1484.12 Learning Object Metadata.
When you get to the home page of the individual standard, click on the link to the Scope & Purpose and to get a short overview of what is being done, including the technical boundaries of the project and some examples of the intended purpose of each. Based on this information, you can determine your level of interest and decide if you want to dig further and get more involved in this work.
If you do want to continue with this standard activity, go back up near the top of the page and review the links to the latest sets of draft documents and meeting notes to get an update on the status of this standard working group and see a full set of the latest documents.
Look at upcoming next meeting dates and consider attending if possible. Meetings are open to anyone interested. If you are not the right person to attend the meeting, suggest that someone else from your organization go.
Subscribe to that group’s email discussion list in order to stay up-to-date on the activities of any IEEE LTSC working group. At the top of each standard working group page are instructions for joining each discussion list, along with a full set of logs from past discussions.
2. Check out the links listed in the sidebar of this article.

3. As you create your learning technology and content strategy, be sure to create a transition strategy that addresses how and at what point you will move from one technology platform to another, one vendor to another, and adopt new technologies and standards as they emerge. How will you ensure that you are able to take as much of your investment of time, money, knowledge and content as possible when transitioning from one of these to the next?

4. Educate yourself about learning related standards well enough so you can ask vendors and partners about the following:

What level of involvement do they have with the various standards activities? Are they on these working groups? What have they contributed?
What are their plans (if any) for use, adoption, compliance with the accredited standards and the specifications as they emerge?
Ask them to describe how they can assist with your transition strategy. This is not a disingenuous discussion, but rather a pragmatic acknowledgment of the inevitable moves you will need to make over the coming years.
5. Act NOW! There are two primary reasons why you should take action now, before the final accredited learning standards from IEEE LTSC and ISO are complete:

The specifications for several of these standards are complete enough to allow you to begin using them today. This is demonstrated by the growing use of these specifications by many of the consortiums and alliances including ADL, IMS, and PROMETEUS.
The real work and time required now is for the preparation that every organization must do to develop their specific strategy and implementation plan. Deciding things such as which metadata elements to use, the content hierarchy for learning objects, articulating the appropriate sequencing for learning interactions and instructional design, require significant effort and must be completed and incorporated within the plans of any organization wishing to gain the benefits these standards enable.
6. Stay tuned to for continued updates and coverage of the important developments with standards for the new learning economy. There you will find a history of the learning objects projects, presentations I’ve given on the learning standards efforts, articles about the learning objects and learning standards and a thorough glossary of the terms and acronyms used to describe this process.

Final thoughts
Let me reassure you that while much of this may seem at times like techno-mumbo-jumbo and engineering speak, like learning any new language or way of doing something, it will seem hard at first but you will learn it quickly. Better start now and lead the pack than miss this vibrant opportunity to change and improve how all of us work and learn each day.

Wayne Hodgins is Strategic Futurist, Director of Worldwide Learning Strategies at Autodesk, Inc. He is also Chair of the IEEE LTSC task force and cofounder of the Learnativity Alliance. You can reach him directly at [email protected] or on the web at

Marcia Conner is editor in chief of LiNE Zine and the other cofounder of the Learnativity Alliance. She and Wayne have collaborated on many publications over the years. Reach her at [email protected] or on the web at

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